The Ibex of Sha-Ping

Memorial to a young subaltern.

(Announcing the online library page of The Butterfly Diaries blog! Explore nature-writing online for free.)

Part of a green book cover with an embossed gold ibex head shown on it.

Click the image to reach the free download page from http://www.archive.org.

Being a “fauji” of the Indian Army who loves the Himalayas, it is most appropriate for me to begin my free online nature writing   ‘collection’ with :

The ibex of Sha-ping, and other Himalayan studies” by Lt L.A. Rundall. 1915 (with numerous pen and ink sketches and coloured plates by the author).

An opened book standing with its outer cover facing us. The dustjacket is on and is fawn coloured. The spine bears the names of the book and author, a caricature of a bear cub, the cost (ten shillings and sixpence) and the logo for McMillan who published the book. The front jacket has the name written along the top edge and the head of an ibex in the centre.

Lt Lionel Bickersteth Rundall (1890-1914) was a young British army officer who perished in one of the battles of the First World War. Commissioned into  the British Indian Army,  Rundall  joined the “1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment)” . The First Gurkhas were located at Dharmsala in those days and it is from here that Rundall must have ventured forth into the mountains and vales of today’s Himachal Pradesh. He fell in love with the mountains and planned to return over and over again.

Returning to England more than once in a few years was financially difficult for subalterns in those days. The commanding officers who would have lived most of their life in strait-laced Victorian society would not grant leave to a young officer to visit the towns and cities calling such visits to where white memsahibs could be found as “poodle-faking”.

There was an old saw that goes as follows:

“A subaltern may not marry,
captains might marry,
majors should marry,
and lieutenant-colonels must marry.”

Young officers were prevented from marrying as it was felt that it could ruin them financially when the cost was added to the initial outlay for commission, uniforms, equipment, subscriptions and the mess. The purity of the mess was disturbed by marriage, as it took the officer out of the all-male warrior clique. An officer who married without getting permission from his commanding officer severely jeopardized his chances of promotion. Custom, economics and peer pressure combined to postpone marriage until quite late in life.

Instead, they were encouraged to go to hunting, shooting, pig-sticking or any other activity which would sublimate their normal sex drive. So it was in the case of Rundall. He wandered far and wide in the hills nearby. Captivated by the hgh mountains, the wild life, the cold spring water, the fresh air and the variety of Himalayan fauna not to be found anywhere today. His keen observation and talent as an artist led him to write a number of stories which he illustrated himself.  In the book, a preface contains excerpts of his last letter to his mother wherein he made plans for many more trips including a trip to Tibet. At this point of time, hardly a decade would have passed since Younghusband’s expedition had opened Tibet up to the British and such a thought would have great romantic appeal to a young man.

Alas it was not to be,  Rundall died on 19 Dec 1914.  This fact leads us to conclude that he was part of the First Battalion of the First Gurkha Rifles which went to France with the Third Lahore Division in 1914.  The first battalion was the only battalion of the First Gurkha Rifles which went to Europe during World War I. With them went my own field company, 20 Field Company of the Third Bombay Sappers and Miners, which marched down the streets of Marseilles, the very first Indian troops to set foot in France. The Indians soon found themselves in the front-lines of one of the most vicious wars ever known to mankind. In Dec 1914, the Indians were ordered to capture the village of Givenchy. The Indians fought courageously capturing two lies of enemy trenches but were forced to retreat by a strong German counter-attack  with heavy losses, including amongst the officers. It is surmised that Rundall died in this battle which raged from 18 to 22 Dec.

A few excerpts from Rundall are in order.  Illustrated with beautiful sketches and paintings by Rundall himself, his preface indicates that he had worked towards writing the book which his family published posthumously.

There is an attraction about the log fire, made up of a hundred things...

From the Preface

You who are wearied with the day’s work, and would hear of the wonders of the Himalaya, let yourself float in your imagination, out across the seas, over the parched sand of the desert, across the arid plains of India, and up into the everlasting snows where the chill night winds are sighing. There, below you, lies my camp ; in the clearing midst the dark pine forests, where the log fire blazes and crackles, and where the silver stream murmurs of the thousand mysteries of the mountains…

Come down with me to my camp. Seat yourself comfortably in my deck chair, and draw it closer to the blaze. Help yourself to whisky—I have nothing better for you, except the ice-cold water from the spring — light your pipe, and listen awhile to the stories which I will tell you, mainly of what I myself have seen, partly of what I have heard from the lips of other shikaris.

There is an attraction about the log fire, made up of a hundred things. Among these, the sweet scent of the burning pine, the sharp tongues of flame which leap and dart, the merry crackle of the dry wood, the hissing of the sap, and the myriad sparks which whirl upwards and soar floating on the wings of the blue smoke. Each but a small matter in itself but contributing to the cheery glow, and
without which it would not be complete.

So it is with the mountain, and its thousand streams, its forests and its lakes, its animals and its birds, its flowers and ferns. Without any one of them it would not be complete.

Sunset on snowy peak

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Explore posts in the same categories: bears, First Gurkha Rifles, heroes, Himachal Pradesh, Himalayas, Ibex, Lt LB Rundall, mountains, nature, nature writers, shikar

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9 Comments on “The Ibex of Sha-Ping”

  1. Luisa Says:

    Wonderful. Thanks for such an evocative post.

  2. Susan Sharma Says:

    Very interesting insights.

  3. Shyamal Says:

    Books with little line sketches on the margin always tend to be good reading.

  4. iniyaal Says:

    Thank you for the archive library link. I love mountains… And loved every page and illustration in this book. They are so very interesting and inspiring. A great post… Looking forward to know about more amazing books in your online library pages.

  5. David Farmer Says:

    Thank you for this excellent account and for drawing attention to this beautiful book. Lionel Rundall was my great-uncle (brother of my maternal grandmother Dorothy Rundall). The story of his brief but remarkably productive life formed a major part of the of the background narrative in my own upbringing. I have some of the original pictures from his book, his ceremonial officer’s sword, copies of his book, an account of his life written by his mother, one or two things that appear in sketches in the book, and a few other items. His early death, and that of his brother Montague Rundall at the same time, shaped my own view of the tragic waste of war.

    Lionel came from an interesting family. His father, Colonel Frank Montague Rundall, was a Persian scholar who published (initially anonymously as was the custom) through the Persia Society, translations of the Rubaiyat and Odes of Hafiz, the Persian Poet; my grandmother subsequently put into English verse some of these translations. I find the Ibex of Sha-Ping a touching example of a young soldier’s sensitive and creative spirit, and often wonder what he would have thought of the war poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegried Sassoon and others, had he lived a little longer. I appreciate this opportunity to comment on his life.


  6. The happiness you got about reading about your great-uncle has more than repaid the effort I put in to write this post!

    Its really wonderful to get in touch with you. If you would care to oblige, I would love to have a photocopy/scan of the account of Lionel’s life written by his mother which could be sent to me at ashwin.baindur(at)gmail.com.

  7. Dorothy E. Young nee Rundall Says:

    Thank you for your account of Lionel Rundall’s life. My father, William Rundall fought with the 2nd Dragoon Guards (The Queen’s Bays) in WW1. He talked of relatives in Kent and military relatives stationed at South Mimms. His father, John Rundall, fought in India in the late 1870’s. My name was Dorothy Rundall. I have The Ibex of Sha-Ping and love it. Do you have any more information on Lionel Rundall or perhaps a photograph? I would love to see if there is a family resemblance.

  8. Liz Young Says:

    Does anyone know where the memorial for L. B. Rundall and his brother, Arthur is? I know that it is in a church in Paddington but beyond that, I can find nothing. They were distant relatives. My father spoke of them when I was a child.


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